Monday, 15 October 2012

They Came, They Sang, They Conquered

By Nivedita Narayanan

Whoever says music has anything to do with genes? This Saturday, the 13th of October, I was invited to judge a music competition for special children (many visually impaired, a few autistic), conducted by musician-doctor Dr Sunder’s Freedom Trust. The Trust conducts annual music, dance and painting competitions for special kids, picks the ones with potential and trains them well enough for them to take the art as a profession.

So there were around 30 kids, aged 8-15. Most of them were from poor families, had never taken a single Carnatic music lesson in their life and their parents probably call Carnatic music saami paatu. But in school, these kids learn Christian carols, which they sang in the contest.

Some of the kids were nervous, some confident, others downright jittery. But somehow, they all seemed to like, even love, what they were singing. When they sang, they closed their eyes, a small smile crept on to their lips, they gently swayed to the beat and seemed blissfully lost in another world.

The best was a visually impaired girl named Mariammal from Little Flower Convent. Like most other kids, she sang a Christian hymn—but this one had a fair share of sangatis and gamakams. When her turn came, she sat in a chair in front of us, a trifle nervous. Once she started, the next five minutes went by in a blur. We watched in surprise as she negotiated sangati after sangati with ease. She kept a perfect eight-beat rhythm. The surprise on the judges’ faces caught the attention of a group of people chatting nearby. By the time Mariammal was done, she had two dozen people around her, all listening with rapt attention. There hadn’t been a single off-key note in her singing and not a hint of complacency. ‘Can you repeat these phrases?’ I asked her, and sang a few swara phrases in Mayamalavagowla. She repeated them effortlessly. Had she been trained in Carnatic music? ‘No, miss,’ she said with a smile, for she knew that she had been asked that question because she’d sung well. ‘School-la music teacher kathu tharaanga.’ (I learn in school.)

Kids that refused to speak when asked their names perked up when asked to sing. At least half the kids sang well, but more importantly, music brought about a visible, positive transformation in them. While not many of them may take up music as a profession, it will definitely help make their lives (and their parents’) better. I asked a few parents who seemed sufficiently well-off to afford music classes why they did not teach their children music, and all of them had the same answer—good music teachers willing to invest the amount of time these children need are hard to find.

If you know someone in Chennai who teaches or is willing to teach special children music, please let me know. (nivedita.narayanan@gmail.com)

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